Independent Baseball Chatter – by Bob Wirz
Even though 10 former American Association players already had current spots on major league rosters, the arrival of right-hander Aaron Wilkerson over the weekend had reason to bring smiles throughout the league.
Wilkerson has been touted as a potential major leaguer for some time now, but that was not the case back in 2011 when his career was stalled–threatened, one might say–when the Cumberland University product (Lebanon, Tenn.) was sidelined to undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery. He did not pitch for nearly two years, with some of his time spent working in the grocery store.
Seeing the 28-year-old step on the mound for the postseason hopeful Milwaukee Brewers also marked one of those infrequent occurrences when an American Association find made this giant leap from throwing his first professional pitch in Independent Baseball all the way to the big time.
The league only has two other such players among the 11 who now are on major league rosters and both of them, Washington ace Max Scherzer and Seattle lefty James Paxton, were highly regarded prospects from the beginning. Wilkerson went undrafted, with the elbow injury playing an obvious role.
But Wilkerson, who pitched for Grand Prairie briefly in 2013 along with appearances in two other Independent leagues and was with the AirHogs more extensively the next year, was impressive enough with his strikeout-per-inning work that the league sold his contract to the Boston Red Sox.
Boston nurtured his development all the way from the rookie New York-Penn League to its top farm club in Pawtucket, RI before reluctantly giving the 6-foot-3 hurler up midway in the 2016 season as part of a 2-for-1 swap that netted the Fenway Park residents needed experience in the form of veteran infielder Aaron Hill.
“It (reaching the majors) means the world,” Wilkerson told MLB.com after his first day of shagging fly balls during batting practice. “It’s almost surreal right now.”
Wilkerson earned the trip to the majors by allowing only 117 hits in 142.1 innings and winning 11 of 15 decisions (3.16 ERA) this summer for Double-A Biloxi, then throwing seven no-hit innings with 11 strikeouts for Triple-A Colorado Springs in a Pacific Coast League playoff game.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell found a perfect spot to give the hurler his first major league outing, a 12-pitch (eight were strikes), two-strikeout inning to finish at 10-2 romp at Miami Friday, then hinted the mustachioed hurler could even get a start during the last two weeks of the regular season since the Brewers have only three fully-extended starting pitchers.
MLB.com writer Adam McCalvy has even determined the way Wilkerson was added to the parent Brewers roster would leave him postseason-eligible if Milwaukee gets that far.
The story just seems to be getting better by the day.
Record Tied for Number of Players in Majors
When Aaron Wilkerson joined Milwaukee, Independent Baseball leagues tied their record set last season with 45 of their former players wearing major league uniforms in a single season. Twelve of that group played in the American Association.
Photo: Biloxi Shuckers
Previously the chief spokesman for Baseball Commissioners Bowie Kuhn and Peter Ueberroth, Bob Wirz has been writing extensively about Independent Baseball since 2003. He is a frequent contributor to this site, has a blog, www.IndyBaseballChatter.com, and a book about his life, “The Passion of Baseball”, is available at traditional book-buying sites, or at www.WirzandAssociates.com.